Is Online Drug Information Accurate?

Are You Getting False Information from Wikipedia?Let’s say you’re riding in your friend’s car and in between joking about his new haircut, you catch a few words of a news report: the new prescription medication you’ve been taking for 3 months has some safety concerns. You tell your friend to quiet down, but it’s too late; the broadcast has moved on to another subject.

Now you’re worried, and if you’re like the majority of Americans, when you get home, you’re going to do an internet search to find out more about that news report. Unfortunately, a study has shown that you’re likely to get inaccurate information online. How is this?

When in Doubt, We Turn to Wikipedia

The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, states that the sites Wikipedia, Google, and WebMD are where more than half of Americans search for health information. When the FDA issues a drug safety warning, Google searches spike 82% in the following week, and Wikipedia page visits increase by 175% on the day of the announcement. But how quickly are updates made to these pages?

Are You Reading Current Information?

The good news is that more than 1/3 of Wikipedia pages were updated within 14 days of an FDA announcement. Common diseases are more likely to be updated quickly than uncommon ones. The bad news is that about ¼ of the pages were updated more than 14 days after the announcement, averaging 42 days before update. The worst news of all? More than 1/3 of the pages stayed untouched more than a year later.

So in plain terms, if you hear that news article, do a web search, and click on the likely first web result, (Wikipedia) you have less than a 30% chance that the information there will be current.

Is there a Better Way to Find Drug Updates?

The best way to find up-to-date information on the internet is to go straight to the sorce: the website. “As a public health and regulatory agency, it is a priority for the FDA to provide consumers with clear and accurate information about the safety of the drugs they take,” FDA spokesperson Tara Goodin said.

Here are a few ways the FDA provides information online:

Of course, another way you can find out the latest information is to contact your friendly neighborhood pharmacy. Here at Brian’s Pharmacies, we’re always happy to talk to you about concerns and questions you have about your medication.

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